QR codes are used all over the world, across a number of industries. Originating in Japan, the QR code was invented by Denso Wave in 1994 as a means to track vehicles during manufacturing. Since then, they have experienced significant but fragmented global growth, often competing with long-established payment methods such as card payments.
China has been at the forefront of QR code adoption for some time. It is the world’s largest market for mobile payments. According to a recent report from mobile industry body GSMA, in partnership with NTT DATA and Accourt, in 2018 Chinese consumer and business mobile payments via QR codes totalled US$13 trillion.
Despite their evident success across China, QR codes have struggled to gain traction in key markets around the world – particularly across Europe and North America. For a long time, business there were unconvinced or unaware about the technology and its many capabilities.
For European and North American customers used to low-friction, contactless payments channels, QR codes often seemed like an inconvenience. The technology requires the individual to unlock their mobile device, open a third-party QR reader application, and then scan the code.
Times, however, are changing. The pandemic has accelerated digitalisation, as businesses have looked to technology in order to adapt to new modes of living and working. Social distancing has resulted in the search for new, innovative ways of delivering contactless service to consumers. For many industries, QR codes provide just that.
This marks an unprecedented opportunity to build awareness and usage of QR codes across the economy. Below, I explore five innovative applications of QR code technology – looking at how they are transforming our world.
In China, QR codes have played a pivotal role in the fight against COVID-19. A new, mandatory, nationwide system of coloured health QR codes was rolled out to control the transmission of the virus. Entering a shopping mall, park, or office building now requires consumers to generate a green QR code using an app on their smartphones. A green health code allows citizens to move around freely, while yellow or red require self-isolation.
The system has proven remarkably successful, helping to rapidly curtail the spread of the virus and supporting China’s adaptation to the new normal.
Like China, the UK recently implemented a QR code system to tackle the spread of coronavirus. Through an in-app camera function, the NHS COVID-19 contact tracing app is able to scan QR codes at venues and log where consumers have been. In order to facilitate this, the government set up a way for pubs, restaurants and other venues to create their own QR codes through a generator on its site.
QR codes are demonstrating their versatility and usefulness in other parts of healthcare, too. London-based digital health company TestCard has developed a non-invasive urinary tract infection (UTI) testing kit that can be used at home; a QR code is scanned to tell the accompanying app what type of test is being carried out.
Educational health video provider VUCA Health has also launched an initiative that uses QR codes to deliver vaccine information. Pharmacists and healthcare providers can display a QR code for the vaccine about to be administered that will take patients to a virtual vaccine information sheet on their mobile device. This allows patients to access vaccine information more efficiently and hygienically, at a crucial point in the process.
The rapid growth of mobile and digital payments around the world offers mobile money providers (MMPs) an opportunity to expand their mobile money ecosystems for consumers and merchants.
In the UK, cash was in decline even before the pandemic. According to UK Finance, card payments accounted for just over half (51%) of all payments in 2019. The pandemic has only accelerated this process, with fears surrounding virus transmission through physical tender.
The rise of the digital wallet alongside the demise of cash presents the perfect opportunity for MMPs. Paypal recently rolled out a new feature in its mobile app that lets consumers pay at their desired location simply by scanning a QR code with a smartphone camera. This approach has benefits for merchants as well, empowering smaller business to offer touchless payments without needing to invest in lots of point of sale (POS) equipment.
QR codes provide the perfect solution for retailers to offer contactless customer experiences to their consumers. They enable quick access to customer support, increase social media visibility, increase traffic to websites, and boost app downloads.
NTT DATA’s ‘Catch &Go’ digital store enables retailers to set up a cashier-less store. Customers register their payment method beforehand, scan a QR code to identify themselves upon arrival, take their items, and are automatically charged when they leave the store. Customers also have the option to use facial recognition as an alternative to rely on their phone.
Another QR code application becoming increasingly commonplace in retail as a means of managing customer flow and overcrowding is virtual queueing technology. In both Sainsburys and Waitrose shoppers can scan a QR code, or send a text to a virtual number, to either join a virtual queue or book a fixed timeslot for getting into the shop, so they no longer need to wait outside the shop.
QR codes are transforming the hospitality industry in a number of ways. For example, they are being used to facilitate ‘contactless’ digital menus. These digital menus can be made interactive and quickly updated. Some digital menu platforms even allow for data analysis – giving businesses a new insight into their consumers.
QR codes can also be used to handle contactless ordering and payment. This enables restaurants to serve more customers at a quicker pace, maximizing their profit and revenue.
The pandemic has transformed everyone’s lives. QR codes are a core part of this new world, offering exciting new opportunities for businesses to rethink how they deliver services to customers – those who don’t act now risk being left behind.